You might think, “Seen one red rock park, seen them all.” But each has a unique personality—Arches has arches (of course), Bryce Canyon has hoodoos, and Cedar Mesa has an extraordinary number of ancient ruins.
How to characterize Valley of Fire State Park? This is a park that has a bit of it all—fiery red rocks and pastel slot canyons, a few small arches, ancient petroglyphs, and an area of swirls and colorful stripes that reminded me of a giant ice cream sundae.
December Is The Perfect Time To Visit
In mid-December, we pulled into the campground (no reservations needed!), settled into our beautiful site, and enjoyed two days of exploring.
Just like we found on our visit to Death Valley National Park, December is a great time to visit Valley of Fire. The temperatures are comfortably cool and perfect for hiking. There are only a handful of designated trails in the park, which you can tackle in one long day of hiking. But there are unlimited opportunities for off-trail hiking to your heart’s content.
One of the most fun things about hiking on sandstone is that you can scramble up nearly vertical surfaces with no fear of slipping.
Hitting All The Trails In One Day
The road through the park winds through the red rock landscape, with convenient pull-offs at trailheads. We started early one morning and stopped to hike every trail. The hikes are short (1.5 to 4 miles round-trip) but rewarding, traveling through a landscape painted in soft reds, pinks, yellows, and purples. Along the way are surprises: slot canyons, small arches, and hundreds of petroglyphs left behind by ancient peoples.
A Beautiful Hike Off-Trail
Our second morning in the park, we took the advice of a park ranger who recommended hiking off-trail in canyon wash #5. There’s a small faded sign marking the wash and a pull-out for two vehicles. We had the trail to ourselves in the early morning. It was just as beautiful and colorful as he promised.
The Atlatl Campground at Valley of Fire is first-come, first-served. It’s freeing (and rare for us) not to have to make reservations ahead of time, but there’s also a bit of anxiety associated with no-reservation campgrounds. We arrived early afternoon and were fortunate to find a site, but I’d recommend getting there as early as possible. It’s one of the most beautiful campgrounds we’ve stayed in, and downright luxurious with water and electric hookups in half of the sites. The park has very nice bathhouses, an excellent visitor center, and zero Verizon coverage.
Catching Up With Friends In Boulder City, NV
Our good friends and hiking buddies Pam and John recently put down part-time roots in Boulder City and we spent a delightful couple of days hanging out with them. They showed us around cute little Boulder City, introduced us to the local bighorn sheep residents and took us on a six-mile hike up nearby Red Mountain where we enjoyed panoramic views of the town. Best of all was having time to visit and catch up, made even sweeter by the delicious berry tart that Pam surprised me with for my birthday. A very good celebration, indeed.
Oh, yes, you are so right that we need to see this place! So far, we haven’t tired of the red rocks, either. Once again, you have provided the perfect itinerary for us when we eventually get there. The only thing missing will be you💜
Joodie, I think red rock hiking is the most fun type of hiking! We need to figure out a plan for meeting up in the southwest for some red rock scrambling adventures together. ;-)
When we were first married, 49 years ago, we visited Sedona and were wowed by the formations and colors of those rocks. For many years, the working years, we thought that they only existed around Sedona. Then we retired and took to the road. We found those red rocks, those fantastic formations, in other places and are still wowed by them. Valley of Fire is a wonderful place to wander, but that no reservation campground is so far from anywhere it makes me too nervous to try and stay. It’s a long way to another choice (if there even is one) if the campground is full. We’ve just driven up from Boulder City and explored but it gave us a wonderful taste of the red rocks!
Sue, I think Sedona is the first place I ever saw red rocks, too! As you know, Valley of Fire is a gem. I won’t be surprised if they switch to a reservation system for the campground. As you said, there’s no other place to stay close by.
Terri, it truly is beautiful, and even more so in person!
Thanks for sharing, took a motorcycle trip there in December….:beautiful place and the drive through Lake Mead National Park to Boulder is pretty nice too.
Keep on, Keepin on!
Chad & Stacy, that must have been a blast cruising through the park on a motorcycle! I wonder if we were there at the same time?
Every time I see photos of this particular park, I kick myself for not making visiting it a higher priority. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about the scenery, the hiking, and the campground, and your photos just add to the argument that everyone should visit. You also had it right, though, by visiting in December. Perhaps some day we’ll just copy your itinerary from this past winter since you seemed to be in many beautiful places when the weather was being cooperative.
I’m also glad to hear you got to hang out with Pam and John. Maybe we really SHOULD follow your exact itinerary one year since we seem to keep missing them… I have no doubt you all had a great day on the trails in sunny Nevada!
Laura, we did have good weather in our December cross-country journey (until we got to West Texas and froze, LOL). I think December is the perfect time for Death Valley and Valley of Fire, though. Not only is the weather great, but as long as you’re there before Christmas break, the crowds are light.
We had such a good time with Pam and John. It was fun to see them in their new hometown!
You were traveling many of the places we traveled on our first year of marriage. Boulder
City was our very first stop after or wedding and was it HOT in September. Had to
go to Las Vegas for an air conditioner or I wasn’t staying. 110 degrees in a trailer
is not fun. Beatty, Nevada was our second stop ..gateway to Death Valley so the
pictures and stories of the roads were very familiar. However we did spend a Saturday
at Scotty’s Castle, it was open back then. Many memories from 1964!
Happy travels ahead.
Penny, it’s fun knowing that you’ve been to so many of these places. But I cannot imagine being in a trailer in 110 degrees! That’s hot enough to cook you, LOL! I really want to return to Death Valley to see Scotty’s Castle. Glad we’re bringing back memories for you—I’ll bet there are a lot more people traveling in RV’s now than there were in 1964! OXOX
As others noted, thanks for the ready-made itinerary. Unlike others, we will be using it soon — we plan to visit in early April (i.e., next week)! Here’s hoping we are also fortunate to have good weather.
Shannon, I’m glad this post was good timing for you! I hope you’ll have good weather. Get to the campground early. :-)
You hit one of my favorite areas…..Go to VF 2-3 times a year since 1972….
Sooo much color and the walks and hikes are very easy.
Last month when there I took about a 2 1/2 hour hike with my camera….
1 hour out I met another walker/hiker named Steve Wooten….
This was his 2nd hike for the day….He was 98 years old! WOW!
Hope to have his health in future years….
Reason for 2 trips a year is that Bass Pro Store is in SW Las Vegas..
My only & favorite store for clothing & fishing
Bob, I imagine that you have spectacular photos of Valley of Fire. I wish we had been there for a longer visit, because as you know, light is everything. We didn’t have quite the light conditions we were hoping for at the Fire Wave for good photography.
Beautiful, beautiful photos and inviting description. Thank you, Laurel and Eric. We just had a stop over at Red Rock Park and hike to Church Rock, near Gallup, NM. The red rocks are really special and I think the world couldn’t possibly have too many.
I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Nancy. I agree red rock country is special. We never tire of it! You two would enjoy Valley of Fire.
Valley of Fire is a place one never gets tired of visiting. I am so glad it is near by. Your photos are beautiful. It is always a treat when we get to spend time with you and Eric. This time was extra special. Can’t wait til next time!!
Pam, you and John are so lucky that Valley of Fire is close enough for an easy day trip for you! Boulder City is such a great town with so many opportunities for all of the red rock hiking that you love.
We had so much fun with you guys. Thanks again for sharing your hometown with us (and that delicious fruit tart!). We’re looking forward to our next adventures together, wherever that may be! :-)
One of our favorite stops. Our son Jeff gave us the tip….he was so correct. We spent 3 days there and would return. The colors of the rocks remind me of a rainbow, every color hue in the Crayola box is here, take the right trail and you will find it. Thanks for sharing the awesome pics, it brought our visit back. Savor the days because the older we get the faster they roll….
Julie, we would return to Valley of Fire, too. There’s more to explore, and we were really wishing we were there for better light conditions for photography. Time does seem to be going by faster, doesn’t it? Guess it’s because we’re all enjoying life.
The blogging world — at least for RVers — seems like such a small one at times. Then again, I guess we pick up new blogs to follow from blogs we’re already following so perhaps it’s not so surprising that we have common friends amongst bloggers.
I can’t even remember how long it’s been since we visited Valley of Fire … it was sometime in the the early 80s when we first arrived in Utah. That much I do recall. Those were the days when we weren’t hikers, so definitely need to go back and check out those trails.
We are of the “make reservations” ilk and find it a bit stressful when our next campground on the road is a rez-free one. I always plan a short day when that happens so we can arrive early. Thus far, we’ve done good.
Erin, we do all seem to get to know each other eventually, don’t we? It’s fun to cross paths with like-minded folks. You two would enjoy the trails and opportunities for photography at Valley of Fire. But I agree, the no-reservations campground is a bit challenging. Arriving early is the best strategy. We lucked out.
Thanks for the post! We are adding Valley of Fire to our list. Maybe we will make it next winter.
You’re welcome, Susan! Valley of Fire is exactly the kind of place you two will enjoy.
Oooooh, yes please! This is going right to the top of our list! All the good stuff in one place!
Gretchen, you will love it! It does have all the good stuff in one place. And it’s fun to have a park where you can easily explore off-trail. It’s a perfect get-away from a long Lopez winter.
We love our week stay at Valley of Fire SP! I have recommended to anyone that would listen to me to stop by at Valley of Fire whenever one find themselves in Las Vegas or near Hoover Dam. It’s a mesmerizing place! A must see, and your photos should be more than enough to entice the still undecided folks.
MonaLiza, I just went back and looked at your posts on Valley of Fire—you did such a great job of providing details about your week of hiking and exploring the park! Your photos are so gorgeous—I would have liked to have more time there for better light. I’m glad we finally got ourselves there—the park had been on our list for years.
We’ve found other places in the area since then, but VoF was the first place where we realized there’s so much more to the area than the Strip! You captured the absolute beauty of the place and showed me the back areas we haven’t seen yet. We hope to some day be in the area when we might trust there being an available electric site when we get there :-)))
Jodee, it was so surprising to discover that there’s a place of such stunning natural beauty so close to Las Vegas! We were in Las Vegas years ago and had heard of Valley of Fire, but never imagined that it was so gorgeous. Not knowing if there will be an electric site available definitely makes it a bit challenging, though.
That is some pretty dramatic scenery. The only time we have seen anything that comes close to this, is in Salta in Northern Argentina. Love all the photos, especially the second and third one with the red and pink tones against the blue sky.
Looks like you have it all to yourselves. What a treat. Thanks for sharing!!
Peta, I love that you can compare the natural wonders that we discover in our travels with the exotic locales that you visit in your far-flung adventures! It makes me even more appreciative of the beauty and diversity of our country. (Although I’d still like to see all of the places you see in your travels.)
You packed a lot in during your time there. I love hiking on the grippy red rocks. The bighorn are powerful looking.
Debbie, we love hiking on the red rocks! It’s kind of like natural velcro, as you know.
We love Valley of Fire and want to go back to spend more time. So happy that you were able to spend time with Pam and John. What a beautifully diverse country we live in.
LuAnn, I’d love to return to Valley of Fire to do more exploring, and especially to try to capture the rock formations in better light. As you know, light is everything in photography! I don’t feel like our photos do the park justice.